By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
When it comes to the troops themselves, I frankly don't know what they think they're fighting for — beyond their own, and their comrades', survival. Certainly not the gaudy ideals enunciated by our leaders, who are (as Iago says of Othello) horribly stuffed with the epithets of war, nor the denatured bromides you get in ABC's Profiles From the Front Line or one-to-one interviews with the embeds. As Desert Storm veteran Anthony Swofford recently pointed out, grunts take pride in lying to reporters, and the rest of us play along, eager to believe in these kids' gritty idealism. It makes war palatable.
Of course, the brutal truth does sometimes filter through. Last Saturday, The New York Times' Dexter Filkins interviewed two Marines about the difficulties of enacting an almost impossibly ambiguous war plan: They've got to try to kill the enemy while often risking their own lives in an attempt not to accidentally kill civilians (or guerrillas dressed like civilians). At one point, Sergeant Eric Schrumpf recalled how, aiming at an Iraqi soldier surrounded by civilians, he and his men accidentally shot an innocent woman. "I'm sorry," he told Filkins. "But the chick was in the way."
The chick! During the Vietnam War, such cavalier comments led some sheltered idiots back home to demonize American fighting men, many of them young, terrified draftees. But just as America now finds it ever harder to accept the idea of any innocents dying in war, be they U.S. troops or foreign civilians, so it's become harder to fault grunts who (everyone knows) have been drilled in the dehumanized arts of killing, then shipped abroad willy-nilly to practice them. Unlike most of us, these soldiers actually do work for a Defense Department elite that feeds from the corporate trough, and seeing their young faces on the battlefield you can feel the class divisions underwriting our nation's prosperity. For these troops compose "a fighting force that," as the N.Y. Times recently noted, "is anything but a cross-section of America." Rather, ours is a working-class military that includes a disproportionately high number of minorities and immigrants. Of the first 28 soldiers to die in the war, only one came from a well-off family.
The troops understand this full well. Near the beginning of Jarhead, Swofford's strutting memoir of Gulf War I, this one-time sniper talks about how he and the other crazy-ass Marines harbored no illusions about how much their lives mattered to the Pentagon brass who sent them into the desert to fight. In the big picture, they knew, he says, "that the outcome of the conflict is less important for us — the men who will fight and die — than for the old white fuckers and others who have billions of dollars to gain or lose . . . We are soldiers for the vast fortunes of others."
In its own wrenching way, the same holds even truer for the Iraqi people. The most cruelly hit are the least fortunate — those forced to fight with fedayeenguns at their backs, those who must stay in the battered cities because they have nowhere else to go, those who lack the resources to squirrel away food or who, like the seven women and children machine-gunned on Monday, fail to stop at an Army checkpoint. While the Benz-honking winners in Saddam's society have already sent their families (and often themselves) to other Arab capitals, its millions of losers are left to bear the bloody, destructive consequences of his crimes against them. And whatever one's opinion of "regime change," there's no escaping one lacerating truth: As usual, this war finds one country's working people killing another's for the ultimate benefit of the rich, while their leaders mouth unconvincing words about freedom or defending the glorious homeland.